Playing with the Fire of History


Falsifications and contradictions are often involved when it comes to far-right ideologies. Last week we saw how history can be altered by populist regimes in order to serve a particular agenda: how some perpetrators are not only rehabilitated but glorified; and how the horrors of the past become normalized, something people should “move on” from. 

This week, the readings presented once again this aspect of the far-right machinery. In mind I have the example of Corneliu Codreanu, the Romanian fascist, who painted bolshevism and liberalism as Jewish plots. The glorification of his memory by Polish far-right groups, though Polish and Romanian right-wing radicals did not have much of relationship in the 1930s, show how people can appropriate a history, mix it with their own experiences and make it their own. This, in a nutshell, explain what Hanebrick meant by “Communism is gone, but the idea of Judeo-Bolshevism refuses to go away”. The capacity for an ideology to transcend time through constant adaptations is partly what makes it so persistent, despite being no longer officially relevant. 

Another interesting example in Hanebrick’s introduction was the idea of modern antisemitism being rooted in medieval prejudice. This immediately got me to think about the blood libel accusations, and how those evolved over time. From trying to find a scapegoat for the humiliations of the crusades to justify the murder of Stalin, one can see here the capacity of antisemitic sentiments to re-invent themselves. 

This brings me to Sholamit Volkov, whose argument about antisemitism being a cultural code really spoke to me. The notion that the complex social, economic and technological changes in late 19th century Europe were simplified to the idea of a “Jewish question” seems so simple, but nevertheless crucial to develop. The answer to that “Jewish Question” — that is, getting rid of Jewish populations, whatever the means —, is an easy way to make sense of the complex changes in society, which makes it attractive to potential followers. Antisemitism is thus a tool for cultural identity, a way to obscure certain issues amplify others. Its significance in relation to its particular historical context helps us understand the persistence of such an ideology. 

Perhaps this new perception can also explain the internationalist dimension to right-wing radicalism. After all, despite several points of friction, they share more or less some basic core values: white-Christian purity and intolerance towards minorities to name only these. Considering what has been said already in this post, the embrace of internationalism by far-right political parties despite their supposed hatred of it, makes a little more sense. It is through such processes that we can better understand those reactionary movements. After all, to quote Motadel: “We dismiss the internationalization of right-wing politics at our own peril”. 

Goal vs Means

D. Khaznadji

It is so easy for our brains to make shortcuts. It is a good way to make the complex — and sometimes scary — world more understandable and more reassuring. It is hard to take the time to think about the contingent nature of our world, to admit that it is not necessarily A alone that leads to B. 

This is exactly what the readings this week showed me: Humans simplifying complex social, economic and political phenomena with shaky historical parallels in order to serve a certain end goal. But while that goal might be totally legitimate, the problem arise when we confuse the goal and the means. The notion of confusing goal and means was introduced to me through psychologists, who argued that we humans suffer in love because we confuse the goal (to love and be loved) with means (verbal affection, physical affection, gifts, etc). In our context, the goal is a strong liberal democracy, and one of the means we came up with was the eradication of fascism. The problem comes when the eradication of fascism becomes the goal, and the strengthening of liberal democracy is relegated to the backstage. 

This is how I made sense of De Grazia, who argued that the victory in 1945 and after was more than just military. Countries had to adapt socially and economically to address the problems fascism claimed it could solve. “Beating” fascism meant not only to win on the battlefield but also to change the environment it thrived in. If there is a “new fascist phenomenon” today, it is because of a failure to implement a proper socio-economic adaptation to our current problems. My point is that we have confused the goal (strong liberal democracy) with the means (eradication of fascism). The means became the goal. Vietnam, Libya and Iraq were all about dealing with the flames of fascist resurrection. The means became the goal. 

This confusion is what led so many people into dropping that F bomb so easily. Which is why Finchelstein felt the need to clearly define and differentiate fascism and populism. Though they certainly do have links, they are in the end two different experiences. Finchelstein reminded me of last week’s readings in a certain way. She asserts that one of the main features of fascist regimes is that they replace History with political myth, aiming at serving a specific agenda. Last week we saw how some leaders forge a shared heritage with a white, Christian Europe. While those leaders would fall more into the category of populism rather than fascism, it also shows how those two can be linked. What I also liked about Finchelstein is that she has a view of fascism that is a bit more complex than the other authors, who seem to be limited to Mussolini as one of the only measurements of a fascist state. 


I am first year MA student in the EURUS program in the European stream. I am Djamel Khaznadji and I did my BA in History at Concordia University in Montreal. My research interest is Turkish foreign policy during the Cold War.

I am Karate athlete, so training is a big part of my life. In my free time I like to read, write (mostly poems) and hang out with my friends.

Having taken a seminar on hate, genocide, and propaganda last year, I think that taking this class will be a good way to deepen my knowledge. Hopefully I will be able to draw from what I have learned in order to bring a positive contribution to this class.